Nausea, hair loss, fatigue, aches and pains. These are just some of the many negative reactions to chemotherapy.
But what if I told you that there is a drug therapy in the works that would fight cancer cells – without the nasty side effects?
That’s what 43North’s 2016 $1 Million Winner Oncolinx is working on in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute. Their therapy is intended to leave healthy cells alone, unlike traditional chemotherapy methods (which is what causes the side effects), and simply kill the cancer cells.
While we don’t have a cure for cancer yet, this medical advancement could be the answer that millions need to treat this debilitating disease. Learn more about the work that Oncolinx is doing right here in Buffalo, with the help of the University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, to develop their cancer therapy in today’s Founder Friday with Sourav Sinha.
How did your startup, well, start up?
We were part of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Breast Cancer Startup Challenge, where we worked closely with NCI investigators to out-license and spin out new technologies. My co-founder and I met while studying at Dartmouth and bringing together our experiences with chemistry, molecular biology, and industry, we decided to submit a business plan to create Oncolinx with one of the NCI’s platform therapeutics.
What do you do? Your startup?
I’m currently driving the research and strategic vision of Oncolinx as CEO, focusing on building the research infrastructure and team in collaboration with academic groups to help us move closer to first in- human testing of our technology. Oncolinx as a company creates targeted immunotherapies that both induce cancer cell death and a localized anti-tumor immune response to help improve the safety and durability of treatment.
When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?
There hasn’t been an ‘aha’ moment, but I’d say our eyes really opened up after starting Oncolinx. The company started with a passion for helping people, first and foremost. We knew we wanted to reduce side effects and improve drug efficacy, but it wasn’t until a year after starting Oncolinx that we realized we could also use the body’s own immune system to maximize the chance of eradicating disease. This was serendipity at its finest, and gave us hope that we could actually succeed on a whole new level.
What tools can you not live without and why?
QxMD helps me keep track of scientific journals and keywords that I’m interested in.
What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?
The CEO of Agios, David Schenkein, once told me that the most important part of leadership is making sure people feel heard. That by embracing feedback and consistently living by the shared values dictated by a team, you can show people how you internalize their ideas and truly empathize with their perspective.
What is the best part/worst part of your day as a founder?
The best part of the day is learning new science and thinking about how to solve some of the problems we face, both as a team and in research. The worst part of the day are the inevitable setbacks that slow down our growth towards getting a drug to market.
Goals for the next year? Three years?
The goal for the next year is to manufacture GMP drug material for clinical trials and move our first therapeutic into Phase I. Over the next three years, we hope to close co-development partnerships with pharma companies to accelerate the R&D for three Oncolinx treatments.
We initially applied to 43North to expand and grow our research efforts with Dr. Dhaval Shah (Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Buffalo), who is working at the cutting edge of immuno-oncology research and innovation. Additionally, Dr. Shah worked at Pfizer for several years on complex biologics, so he bridges that gap between research and translational medicine. There are few people in the world that have his expertise, so by building out our team and lab in Buffalo, we can expand the infrastructure to support not just one, but many drugs moving into clinical trials.
On top of this, Roswell Park has experience running large clinical studies, and even some investigators we have spoken to have worked on antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) like the one we are building. Buffalo felt like the right mix of biotech research, medicine, and a startup ecosystem for us to be set up for success.
How do you do it? What drives you?
The short answer is hope – hope that a small team can work really hard to create something that helps anyone who is battling cancer. In this industry, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in the science that you forget about the long-term goal to help improve people’s lives. The long answer is a lot of drive comes from our team; their tenacity and integrity to do what it takes for us to succeed and realize the vision that we are all striving for.